The Bulldogs swept Notre Dame in two games this weekend, defeating the Irish 4-1 in South Bend Friday night before Saturday night’s 3-1 win in front of a crowd of 5,981 at Chicago’s Allstate Arena.
“They were probably the best complete games we’ve played all year as far as playing the full 60 minutes goes,” said center Chris Higgins ’05, who picked up a goal and an assist in Friday’s contest. “Our goaltender played really well, and our defense as a whole really picked it up and it showed.”
Goaltender Josh Gartner ’06 got the start in both games and turned away 59 of 61 shots on the weekend in an impressive showing.
“He was very, very steady,” head coach Tim Taylor said. “I thought there were very few second-shot opportunities because he killed a lot of pucks that were shot at the net and at him. He didn’t allow them a rebound or anything like that.”
But Gartner was only a piece of the stingy Yale (10-8-0, 7-5-0 ECAC, 14 pts.) defense that allowed only two goals all weekend against Notre Dame (9-11-4). After last week’s subpar defensive effort in games against Harvard and Brown, the Elis’ play in the defensive zone was focused and free of some of the small but costly mistakes that have hurt the Bulldogs in the past.
In addition, a new forecheck seemed to fit Yale’s style of play well. With one forward staying high in the zone on the forecheck, the system cut down on odd-man rushes the other way and also allowed the defensemen more room to pinch in and help out from the blueline.
“It may not be too much more aggressive for the first forwards in,” said defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03, who recorded his third career goal this weekend. “The place where it’s helping a lot is that the high forward is always back helping the defense.”
Defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 had a productive weekend from the point as well, recording three assists over the two games.
On the other end of the ice, the Bulldogs benefited from goals that came from a number of different players. Nick Deschenes ’03 and Joe Zappala ’06 each scored a goal in both games, and Mike Klema ’04 added a score on Saturday.
“We got some very good offensive performances from a lot of different people,” Taylor said. “But I think obviously the key to the weekend was that we only allowed two goals in 120 minutes of hockey and that’s winning hockey. If you do that you put yourself in an awfully good position.”
Higgins opened the weekend scoring midway into the first period Friday, converting a bulls-eye feed from Dwyer to put the Bulldogs up 1-0.
Just 30 seconds into the second stanza, winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 picked up one of his three assists of the night with a give-and-go to Deschenes, who rifled the puck past Fighting Irish goaltender Morgan Cey.
Less than two minutes later, Dwyer’s slapshot from the point nearly found its way into the back of the net. But after Cey had stopped the initial shot, Zappala powered his way into the slot and scored to increase Yale’s lead to 3-0.
“[Zappala] is very smart about getting to the net himself and getting pucks to the net and he does a lot of little gritty things offensively that lead to goals,” Taylor said of the rookie center, who is tied with winger Christian Jensen ’06 for goals by a freshman with six apiece.
After stopping Notre Dame captain Evan Nielson with a glove save in the second period, Nielson finally beat the Eli netminder, who stole the puck at the blueline and skated in unassisted for the goal that cut Yale’s lead to 3-1.
But Bauman’s power play goal with five minutes remaining in the game put the game away for the Elis. The goal was the third of Bauman’s career.
“We had guys going to the net, and I just got the shot through the screen — the goalie never saw it because of all the legs in front of him,” Bauman said of his shot from the point. “Every once in a while it goes in.”
Saturday, the two teams moved to Chicago for a game at the Allstate Arena, home of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. While it was a different locale for the Elis, the results were nearly the same against the Fighting Irish.
After a scoreless first period, Zappala accepted a pass from Klema and skated in on Notre Dame goaltender Tony Zasowski, wristing a shot over Zasowski’s shoulder for the 1-0 lead.
Just five minutes later, Klema grabbed the puck behind the net and skated it around the crease before backhanding a pinpoint shot high and inside the far post to extend Yale’s lead to 2-0. Deschenes gave the Elis their third and final goal less than a minute later with a fierce slapshot off a Hellemeyer assist.
All weekend, the Bulldogs held the Irish’s top offensive player, Rob Globke, scoreless, but the forward finally snagged his 18th goal of the season just 36 seconds into the third when he surprised Gartner by tipping a shot from Brett Lebda past the Yale netminder. Strong defense to close out the third, however, ensured that the Irish would come no closer.
“Our whole week of practice and our objective before the game was to shut them down defensively,” Higgins said.
Chicago native Denis Nam ’03 enjoyed a good deal of local support at the venue, and Taylor said his line, which also includes rookies Jeff Hristovski ’06 and Zach Mayer ’06, performed very well all weekend.
For the Bulldogs, the defensive effort is a good sign heading into one more non-league game before closing out the season with 10 ECAC contests.
“Every time we neglect to do something or take care of a detail it seems to jump up and burn us,” Taylor said. “I thought we were really detail conscious in our defensive play this weekend. I just thought we did a lot of little extra things that led to good defensive results.”